Yesterday afternoon, as my wife and me slowly ambled up Calverley Street towards our destination of Leeds Museum, she pointed out this was her inaugural tour of the building housing our city’s historical artefacts.
“It’s not mine. I’ve never been before!” I joked weakly. She smiled disingenuously, called me an idiot for what definitely wasn’t the inaugural time, meanwhile continuing uphill towards the former Mechanical Institute building.
A few years back I embarked on researching my family tree, where I identified brood members as far back as two hundred years ago. One immediately apparent link amongst the immediate clan was a predominant number of them hailed from Yorkshire.
One exception being my great uncle Frank whose origins are recorded as unknown in his birth records. Apparently, similar to the shop keeper in the kids TV show ‘Mr Benn’, he just appeared from nowhere one day.
This wealth of genealogical ties to the area added spice to yesterday’s visit to learn of Leeds’ yesterday. After all, a fair proportion of the historical sights on view would surely have touched many of my forefathers existences…… For good or bad!
Thoughts of potential Strachan tribe related views crossed my conscious mind as we headed into the museum.
Would I find the origins of my grandad Jack’s magic trick where, through slight of hand, he’d fooled his victims into thinking he’d pulled a coin out of their ear?…… Could I unveil a hitherto unknown great aunt who in the early 20th century campaigned relentlessly on the streets of Leeds for suffrage?
Even unlikelier, would it be possible to unearth a record of a Leeds United coach who managed the team for longer than three months without being dismissed?
The answers to the above pre-visit ponderings were an unequivocal no. However, it didn’t detract from a fascinating look at the history of the city so deeply entwined with my family’s recent history.
Amongst the filling of knowledge voids were details of the city’s geological changes over millions of years, it’s early settlers, residences and their tools. In addition, it’s affiliations post invasions of our sceptred isle. Not to mention a more recent history, incorporating West Yorkshire’s rapid economic growth following the 19th century industrial revolution, not forgetting famous son’s and daughters who hail from the city.
During my family tree research I identified forefathers who were butchers, bakers (no candlestick makers, as yet found), carters, a milkman, salesman, soldiers, decorators and shop owners. These included my grandad Jack who, when not pulling coins out of ears, was the proprietor of the fish and chip shop at Gildersome which was demolished*** to make way for the building of the M62 junction at Birstall, in the 1960’s
*** To clarify – My grandad knew the shop was gonna be demolished as part of the motorway construction. The builders didn’t just turn up with a wrecking ball on a busy Friday lunchtime, then commence reducing it to rubble seconds after Billy Thacklethwaite had ordered his lunch of fish cake, chips and scraps.
Family history fascinates me. One day I hope to be able to add flesh to the bones of details I unearthed during my clan tree research. In the process, creating a proper story of the existential journey of relatives in late 19th century Leeds. I have names, birthdates, marriage details and dates of death; however, my aspirations are for a greater understanding of conditions and life experiences of these people.
For example, the story of my great, great grandad who worked as a butcher from 1860’s until his death. As a consequence of his occupation, I’d imagine his family (wife and ten kids) would’ve eaten slightly better than their peers; however I envisage they’d still lived in the same cramped, unpleasant conditions as the rest of the Camp Road area of Woodhouse, Leeds.
What was his son’s (my great grandad) story. He initially worked as a butcher like his dad, but what made him give that up and become a carter (removal man). Potentially turning his back on the family business for, I’d imagine, a less fulfilling role without the comestible perks of a butcher.
Citing their belief I had the literary and creative wherewithal to do so, acquaintances recently opined I should pen a more serious fictional book. Commenting it presents a far greater literary challenge, consequently taking me out of my comfort zone of penning a daily blog, consequently helping me grow as a writer.
If I decide to take that project forward, I may set the narrative in Leeds around the time of my great, great forefather. It’d take lots of preparatory research but as someone once inexplicably taught me “Comfort zones don’t leave themselves!”
I’ll leave you with one of the many photos my dad’s cousin Louis provided during his excellent collation of the family tree on my old man’s maternal side. An exceptional piece of work he produced into a book format, relaying the real life tale of my relatives on my grandma’s branch of the family. The picture, taken in Leeds Town Hall in 1926, is that of one of my great grandad’s performing the role of Toastmaster, the honourable guest speaker won’t need introduction.